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110 MacDirectory REVIEW SE ELECTRONICS USB2200A > THE MIC FOR YOUR MAC One of the world's best microphone companies has finally come up with a truly professional quality microphone you can plug directly into any computer with USB. If you can afford the SE Electronics USB2200a — around $399 street (low for a mic of this quality), you'll find that you can achieve astonishingly high-quality sound recordings with almost no effort and no expertise. It's the only truly professional microphone you can buy that will plug directly into your Mac. And the quality is so immediately perceptible, you'll wonder how you ever lived without a great microphone. Anyone who has to record anything — from an interview, to a meeting, to a vocal track, to a live symphony orchestra — will be blown away by the convenience: simply plug the microphone into a USB port, start up any Mac recording program like Garage Band or Logic Pro, and you're recording in studio-quality sound. Never before has it been possible to get this level of sound quality with plug and play. Tremendously useful, this is also one of the most fun products for the Mac we've tested in a long time. Chinese Microphones? There have been efforts in this direction before. Chinese manufacturer Samson was first with a condenser microphone that had built-in USB capability. But this and its followers are plagued by noise, mediocre sound quality, and reliability and consistency problems. SE Electronics is by a mile in a different class. This company is the brainchild of Siwei Zou, a composer from Shanghai who was invited to teach at California's Sonoma State University in 1987. There he became interested in recording technology. This bore fruit years later when Zou assembled a team of electrical engineers at Shanghai University to build a new range of microphones of the highest quality. SE mics have been available in Europe since 2003 and the US since 2004 and are already being endorsed by many well-known recording artists. Last year, SE was selected by the legendary Rupert Neve to build his new microphone designs. In the pro audio industry, you just can't get a better endorsement. USB and XLR One of the great things about the 2200USB is that it can work both in USB mode, via the USB connector, and in analog mode, via its traditional XLR con- nector. (To use XLR, you need either a pro recorder that accepts XLR, or a mixer, or a Mac sound card which supports XLR.) The advantage is that the SE is obsolescence- proof. You get the same condenser quality, with a standard cardioid pattern — the most commonly used studio microphone configuration — no matter whether you're using USB or XLR. Cons There is one problem inherent in USB that SE can't do anything about: It is difficult to use two of these microphones in USB mode as a stereo pair. Neither Mac OS nor Windows can gracefully accept two separate USB devices as a workable stereo entity. Fortunately, with Macs (but not with Windows), there is an ingenious workaround, using OS X's built-in Aggre- gate Audio Device Editor. It's kludgy, but it gets you there. Many reviewers have also commented that the length of the USB lead supplied by SE is short. You will probably want to use a USB extender. This highlights another intrinsic problem: the USB miniplug is not a professional connec- tor. It is not as sturdy as the XLR connec- tors that are standard on pro micro- phones. By contrast, the rock-solid XLR connector on the SE, like all XLR connec- tors, will stand up to tremendous abuse. In use We used the USB2200a to record every- thing from interviews to classical and pop music. Professional sounding recording has never been as easy as this. Virtually every- thing we recorded sounded as if it came out of a studio with a skilled engineer at the helm. But it was just us! This must be one of the most empowering accessories you can buy for a Mac. WORDS BY BILL TROOP

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